With Thanksgiving right around the corner, and grownups and children soon to gather at your home, getting caught up in the preparations is all too easy.
After all, you want the best in seasonal decorations and flavorful foods for the main holiday dinner table. But while the adults at your gathering will appreciate and enjoy your efforts, still, putting some thought into the kids’ table is not only wise but essential.
A different feel
You don’t have to make the children’s table an exact copy in miniature. While that’s certainly a simple option, imposing adult holiday expectations and experiences on kids results in a lower level of delight. At the other end of the scale are the boundless ideas online for elaborate kid-friendly Thanksgiving tables — impressive but time-consuming.
With time at a premium, think complementing the adults’ table and enhancing it with kid-friendly elements, rather than recreating it. The children will enjoy it all the same — if not more than — being at the grownups’ table. Here are a few ideas to use as starting points to adapt to the ages and interests of the kids you’re serving.
You can take the traditional route by covering the table with a small, inexpensive seasonal cloth or — for maximum cleanup ease — a disposable plastic or paper tablecloth. You can even cover the table with kraft paper or newsprint and let the kids get creative with crayons or colored pencils.
Matching glass, stoneware, porcelain, or china to that of the adults’ table just isn’t practical for younger children. Kids will be delighted by (unbreakable) options such as seasonal and holiday-themed paper and plastic products as well as silvertone plastic silverware that looks like the real thing.
If seating preferences or squabbling siblings, cousins, or friends are an issue, assign the seating arrangements ahead of time and indicate them on handmade name cards or placemats.
You can simply write the kids’ names in pen or marker on cardstock paper cut and folded into mini two-sided tents, or on paper placemats. Add some holiday-themed stickers for a quick touch of whimsy, or get dimensional with alphabet stickers, cereal or pasta if you’re feeling extra-creative. You’ll save everyone’s sanity and make each little guest feel special.
The main decoration on the kids’ table doesn’t need to be elaborate to create the right atmosphere. You might choose a small pumpkin, or a store-bought turkey — stuffed or a paper pop-up decoration.
If you want to save space, choose a centerpiece that doubles as a food presentation. For example, create a “turkey” with freshly cut raw vegetables: On a plate that fits the allotted space, lay out carrots, celery, peppers, cucumbers or other veggies of your choice for the feathers. Add a small broccoli bunch for the body, and create the head using a tomato. Use a small pointed piece of carrot for the beak, pepper slivers for the gobbler and peppercorns for the eyes.
Keeping children occupied while the adults engage in conversation can be challenging, especially with the temptation of technology. The decision to allow phones, tablets or television use during a gathering is a personal one — but if you choose not to, here are a few ideas to put on the table:
Paper cups filled with crayons, colored pencils, washable magic markers or stickers to decorate the disposable tablecloth, if you’re using one, or coloring books; you also can print seasonal coloring pages from online sources
Trivia games (family knowledge, sports, news etc.)
Pre-bought crafts or craft ideas using everyday items. For example, here’s one to try: Place a small twig from the backyard in a sturdy container weighted with pebbles, sand or seeds. Supply string and precut colorful leaves with holes for hanging. Direct the children to write or draw something for which they’re grateful on each leaf, and to then hang the leaves on the tree. You can do the same with a printout of a turkey and colorful paper “feathers” to place on it.
Food allergies, taste preferences, dietary restrictions, age appropriateness — all pose a challenge when choosing what to serve kids. Within safety and health considerations, encouraging kids to try new and different flavors and textures is a good idea. So keep with the main menu, but add in a few kid-friendly treats, such as:
The veggie turkey centerpiece described above
Cheesy and creamy dips for veggies, fruit or crackers
Cornbread, pumpkin or apple muffins kids can make into a turkey with veggie sticks, pretzels or pieces of fruit
Plainer versions of one or two adult table offerings, in smaller portions
Don’t be overly concerned with creating foods that everyone will eat. Most children are usually waiting for dessert anyway!
Clearing the kids’ table can be a group effort. While the kids should clear their own place settings, they all can help clear the serving dishes, too.
If you used a plastic tablecloth, all that remains on the table after liquids are removed can be bundled up and carried to the kitchen in one fell swoop. Pick the oldest from the table to help with this task.
A rewards system can be a fun way to get each child to help. Offer prizes such as themed candy or small toys based on the task completed.
The overall goal of a socially engaging, hunger-satisfying and gratitude-provoking Thanksgiving kids’ table isn’t hard to achieve. Keeping things simple, fun and age-friendly in settings, decor, food and activities will make for a great holiday dinner at both ends of the dining room.